Former U.N. head, Nobel laureate Kofi Annan dies at 80

Kofi Annan, the Nobel laureate and former secretary-general of the United Nations, died Saturday from a short, undisclosed illness, his foundation announced.

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Annan, 80, of Ghana, led the United Nations from 1997 to 2006 after a decades-long career working for the U.N. He and the organization were awardedthe Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.”

CNN noted Annan’s reputation as a leader who promoted the defense of human rights.

“In the 21st Century I believe the mission of the United Nations will be defined by a new, more profound, awareness of the sanctity and dignity of every human life, regardless of race or religion,” he said in his prize lecture. “This will require us to look beyond the framework of States, and beneath the surface of nations or communities. We must focus, as never before, on improving the conditions of the individual men and women who give the state or nation its richness and character.

But Annan’s time at the U.N. wasn’t without controversy. He previously was under-secretary general for peacekeeping and a special representative to the former Yugoslavia. Reports he commissioned as secretary-general criticized his role in the U.N.’s response to the Rwandan genocide and killings in Yugoslavia, The Guardian reported.

Current U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres said in a statement that he considered Annan a mentor.

“He remained someone I could always turn to for counsel and wisdom — and I know I was not alone,” Guterres said. “He provided people everywhere with a space for dialogue, a place for problem-solving and a path to a better world.”

The Kofi Annan Foundation praised its leader in its statement Saturday.

“Kofi Annan was a global statesman and a deeply committed internationalist who fought throughout his ife for a fairer and more peaceful world,” his foundation said in a release Saturday. “During his distinguished career and leadership of the United Nations he was an ardent champion of peace, sustainable development, human rights and the rule of law.”

By Sam Howard